What did you do to create inclusive practice and how did you do it?
I ran a Foundation year module which included a week-long residential field trip to the Isle of Arran. This was the first residential fieldwork the students had experienced at university, and for some of them it was their first time ever spending a night away from home (this was likely partly due to the impacts of COVID-19 during their A-level years). Several of the students were neurodiverse and had anxiety about the unknown. To limit this, I provided information about field trip arrangements well in advance, and I met with several students individually to discuss specific concerns. Some of my students were transgender or gender non-conforming, which meant that the traditional male/female split of facilities used by the field centre was not workable. I discussed this issue with my students, and implemented their suggestions as to how best to make it work for them; this included arranging a ‘genderqueer’ room where students with less common gender identities could feel safe and comfortable. It helped that I had already built the groundwork of respecting different gender identities by asking students for their pronouns in my first class with them. I also used non-gendered language when referring to field trip protocols, like toilet stops.
Why did you implement your example of inclusive practice?
Foundation year teaching often includes students who have struggled with traditional education in the past, or who have additional support needs. The purpose of the Foundation year is therefore to encourage them to develop both their knowledge and their confidence in university learning. As part of this, it is important to maximise engagement with the course. Research has made it clear that one of the most important factors in student engagement is the establishment of strong relationships between students, and between students and teachers, to foster a sense of belonging (Pearce & Down, 2011; Smith et al., 2013; Pedler, Yeigh & Hudson, 2020). Field trips can contribute hugely to these relationships, and it is therefore important that these trips are built to include all students.
Pearce J & Down B (2011). Relational Pedagogy for Student Engagement and Success at University. The Australian Educational Researcher, 38. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-011-0037-5
Pedler M, Yeigh T, & Hudson S (2020). The Teachers’ Role in Student Engagement: A Review. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 45(3). http://dx.doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2020v45n3.4
Smith KA, Sheppard SD, Johnson DW & Johnson RT (2013). Pedagogies of Engagement: Classroom-Based Practices. Journal of Engineering Education, 94(1). https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2168-9830.2005.tb00831.x
What has been the impact of your case study?
A selection of comments from module evaluations is included below: ‘The classroom is such an amazing and inclusive environment! No matter who you are you feel accepted!’ ‘I enjoy the module leader’s approach to teaching and I find that she has created a pleasant and safe-feeling environment to work in.’ ‘Most inclusive teacher in the uni! Kirsten is really nice and I recommend her for everyone.’ ‘Kirsten’s way of teaching is very helpful and inclusive, subjects were brilliant and so well explained.’ 90.5% of students who responded agreed that they felt part of a learning community of staff and students. The coursework outcomes (based on fieldwork) averaged 75.6% for students with gender-queer or non-binary identities (n=5), and 64.4% for those with male or female identities (n=30). The coursework outcomes averaged 71.7% for those on support plans (indicating extra support needs – for example, students with mental health issues or learning difficulties) (n=7), and 64.6% for students without support plans (n=28). (These figures do not include students who did not submit.) This indicates that all students were able to perform to the best of their abilities.
What were the lessons learned?
I found that the most important factor in leading an inclusive field trip is to build student trust by listening openly to concerns and following through on promises. Recognising potential issues, addressing them honestly, and acting to minimise them are all key steps.